This morning executives from Blackboard and Angel Learning faced a room full of skeptical college administrators at Angel’s annual user meeting in Chicago.
In a surprise move last week, Blackboard announced it planned to buy Angel, and many college officials who use the Angel software expressed frustration with the move. Many of them say they chose Angel in part because they were trying to move away from Blackboard’s products.
Anger has turned to a sense of resignation, say some Angel customers. Many say they tried to enter today’s session with an open mind to hear what Blackboard planned for their future.
The Chronicle was not allowed to attend the session, but those in the room described it on Twitter, and one attendee streamed live video of the event to a Web site.
Blackboard leaders argued that both Blackboard and Angel customers will win in the long run. The company plans to incorporate the best aspects of Angel—including its acclaimed customer service—into its popular platform. And Angel’s leaders contend that Blackboard’s deep pockets make it better able to build the complex systems that colleges now need to keep up with growing demand for distance learning and online support for traditional courses.
Some experienced an unpleasant sense of déjà vu. Many of their colleges ran software from WebCT back in 2006, when Blackboard bought that company, and they say that development and technical support for the product declined drastically under Blackboard’s stewardship.
Michael L. Chasen, Blackboard’s president and chief executive, told the crowd that the company learned from that acquisition and promised that this time would be different. To try to prove the point, he announced that Blackboard will keep Angel Learning’s acclaimed customer-service team in tact. “One of the mistakes we made in the WebCT merger was we tried to merge the support for the two organizations too soon,” he told The Chronicle in an interview before the session.
And since Angel customers express warm feelings for Angel officials, Blackboard stressed that it has named Ray Henderson, who had been the number-two employee for Angel Learning, to lead product development at both Blackboard and Angel.
Angel customers mainly want to know how long they will get to keep the software before Blackboard melds it with Blackboard’s existing course-management system. For one thing, switching platforms is a difficult and expensive process for colleges, and many had only recently signed three-year contracts with Angel.
Mr. Chasen pledged to honor all Angel contract commitments, and to release two more versions of the software, including a version that would serve as a bridge to an eventual Blackboard product that incorporates Angel features.
Nancy Edwards, director of e-learning at Manatee Community College, said in an interview just after the session that she was pleased with the announcements. “Probably the best thing they could have done to reassure us is making Ray Henderson the president of their learning division,” she said. —Jeffrey R. Young